Monday, 17 January 2011

A Wood Buffalo Artists Forum Interview

Hello Wood Buffalo, it sure is a cold one today! Please be very cautious if you are out and about today I'm sure the roads are slippery and many people will indoubtedly be rushing around trying to get back inside.

I had the pleasure of  having discourse with local artist Louise van Alenburg regarding her position as a board member of a new group in town called the Wood Buffalo Artists Forum, and the group's involvement with the upcoming opening of the MacDonald Island Art Gallery.

Please see the below interview for more information. To avoid confusion my contributions are in black, Louise's are in blue.


Hi Louise, first of all I just want to say congratulations to yourself and the entire board for the creation of the new artists group within the Municipality, and thank you for spending the time to answer my questions. I was hoping that you could tell me a little bit more about the structure and creation of the Wood Buffalo Artists Forum (herein referred to as the WBAF or the Forum), and its involvement with the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery.

CB)  Is the Wood Buffalo Artist Forum a registered non-for-profit organization, or are you more of a group of artists whose practices are linked?
LA)We started off as a group of artists really, but we are now in the process of registering as a non-profit organisation.

CB) What is the structure of the Forum?
LA)We will soon have a board with a Chairperson, Vice-Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, and Chairs for Exhibits, Communications, Fundraising and Volunteers.

CB) What is the mandate for the WBAF?
LA)The Wood Buffalo Artists Forum is a new, non-profit community organization committed to supporting regional visual artists and developing public appreciation of culture through visual arts. In addition to local and aboriginal artists, the Artists Forum has brought together visual artists from the Netherlands, the Philippines, Venezuela, Pakistan and Canada of all levels of experience and talent.

CB) Can people join the Forum or is it a closed group? If so, how do they go about joining - is there an application or jury process?
LA)Yes, people can join the Artists Forum, we have already a big group of supporters. People can join WBAF and subscribe to our Newsletter by emailing There are many opportunities for volunteering, learning and participating on the Board of Directors.

CB) What are the benefits to members of your Forum
LA)All subscribers to our newsletter will be kept up to date of our activities. Volunteers will have the chance to be part of a community that cares about a good work-life balance filled with art and culture. In the future we will also train volunteer curators.

CB)How is the WBAF working with other Arts groups in the community?
LA)As volunteer coordinators of the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery, WBAF works with all community arts organizations and welcomes them to contact us about booking space in the gallery. We are currently working with the Photography Club and the Arts and Crafts Guild to set up group and solo exhibits. We will work with the Arts & Crafts Guild to organise a Youth Art Competition during the Children’s Festival in the summer of 2011.

CB)What does the future of this group look like?
LA)We will continue to bring regional artists into the organization, provide support and opportunities to exhibit their work. We will work to improve the community gallery, continue to help the public appreciate art and identify funds to hire a part-time gallery curator.

CB) What are the focus/goals for group this year?
LA)For year 2011, we have scheduled 10 exhibits for the community gallery. These include, solo and small group shows, a children’s exhibit and competition, an art student exhibit and a charity exhibit and sale. Some of these exhibits are open calls, where all artists can participate and some are reserved for community groups. We encourage artists who wish to book their own solo or small group show to contact WBAF and book well in advance as the schedule for 2012 is filling up. We also plan to expand our public education program by organizing exhibit tours and lectures for community members.

CB) Now to change pace a little bit, tell me about this exciting new Community Art Gallery! Can you help shed a little light on the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery and the WBAF’s relationship to this initiative?
LA)The WBAF was organized when artists participating in the Wood Buffalo Art Walk at the 2010 Winterplay Festival (click the link to see a blog post about the Art Walk) identified a need to join together to address needs and issues in the community. A key issue was the lack of a community art gallery. This is where MacDonald Island CEO, Tim Reid offered room in a large 2nd floor hallway and a partnership with WBAF to operate the space as a gallery. With WBAF expertise, a plan was developed for a professional-quality gallery and Mac Island found basic funding to complete the first couple of steps in creating the gallery – painting the walls and installing some hanging track and lighting. Mac Island also generously provided staff time and resources to hold an opening ceremony and signage. We look forward to continuing to work with Mac Island to find additional funding to complete the gallery and hire a part-time curator.

CB) Do you know the mandate of the Community Art Gallery?
LA)The MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery is committed to being a space for the display of visual art from the Wood Buffalo region, to being all-inclusive of regional visual artists, to respecting the experience, creativity and talent of all visual artists, to challenging artists to grow and develop, to developing the public’s appreciation for visual art and to encouraging emerging, experienced and professional artists.

CB) What is the theme or premise of the inaugural show (title, application parameters etc.)?
LA)The theme of the first exhibit is “Celebration”; chosen to CELEBRATE the opening of the first community gallery in the Wood Buffalo region and to celebrate the official opening of MacDonald Island Suncor Energy Community Leisure Centre. We invited artists to use any medium to create works which reflected their vision of the theme. The results are amazing.

CB) How did the group come up with the theme/title of the show?
LA)We wanted to share our excitement with the public about the new gallery and highlight what an amazing facility Mac Island is for the community.

CB)How will this gallery be administered? Will Community Gallery be working with other local galleries to ensure diverse shows?

LA)WBAF will work in partnership with Mac Island to ensure the gallery provides opportunities to all community members to create, exhibit, learn about, and enjoy visual art, free of charge. Although the Mac Island Community Art Gallery is the only functioning gallery at this time, we look forward to working with other facilities as they emerge to share both the talent and interest in the arts in the Wood Buffalo community.

CB) Without a doubt I recognize that the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery is a step towards a high caliber contemporary Gallery space and increased appreciation for the visual arts in our Municipality. I am extremely excited to see the space completed. However, In a few of your answers you allude to there being no alternative exhibition spaces in the Region, and I think that is a bit of an oversight. I say that because in the past two years that I have been a resident in the Municipality I have seen art exhibited in many locations through out the urban service area of Fort McMurray - in both short term/temporary event situations as well as multi-month exhibitions.

We do have professional gallery spaces in the form of the Keyano Art Gallery and the Carol Breen gallery in Frames and More. I understand that we do not have a publicly run art gallery (fingers crossed that we will) as many other communities of our size do, but I feel that many of our local businesses have done a very good job of supporting the visual artists of this community by creating gallery spaces in their places of business. For example the Radisson Hotel lower level, the Red Poll center multipurpose room, the Oil Sands discovery centre multipurpose room, the upper floor of the Fort McMurray Public Library as well as the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre along with many others. I feel that many community members and organizations have worked together to create the current environment of support for the arts and that those alternative exhibition spaces will continue to function as gallery space along side the Community Art Gallery, until or even after an ideally non-profit government funded Public Art Gallery is created. I believe that it is essential to maintain a variety of exhibition spaces and opportunities to artists of all stages in their careers, I feel that the Community Art Gallery at MacDonald island is a wonderful addition to the mix, but is by no means the only viable option to artist in town.

LA)You're right Connor, we should re-phrase it. It was not what we meant to say.

Let me try to explain better. It is not that we did not research the other places, we have had talks with for instance the Library, The Friendship Centre, Heritage Centre etc., not to mention Keyano Gallery. We do acknowledge the fact that these local businesses do a good job with the space they can provide. However our aim is to provide a professional space with a proper gallery hanging system as safe and secure as possible, for local artists of all levels, free of charge or commission fee. The space is meant to be solely for 2 dimensional art. If you wish we would love to explain more about our experiences when we researched the area for suitable gallery space for local artists in person.

WBAF will work in partnership with Mac Island to ensure the gallery provides opportunities to all community members to create, exhibit, learn about, and enjoy visual art, free of charge. We look forward to working with other facilities to share both the talent and interest in the arts in the Wood Buffalo community.

CB) Thank you for clarifying that with me, I agree with your point about the professional grade hanging system - I know that local artists will love to have that resource available to them. Perhaps we can do another interview soon to discuss the research you mentioned

CB)How many artists will be showcased?
LA) 55 regional artists will be participating in the first exhibit.

CB) Is it all emerging artists or professional established artists?
LA)We are fortunate to have artists of all levels of experience working in a number of mediums. This exhibit will also feature a special painting loaned to the gallery by Suncor Energy – a large piece by internationally-renowned Fort McKay artist, Fred MacDonald, commissioned to celebrate the reclamation of the first tailings pond in the region. We are also very fortunate to have a beautiful painting by international artist and Keyano College Faculty of Art instructor, Garry Berteig. This exhibit stands as a true testament to the artistic talent in the region.

Again, thank you for your time and congratulations to your new group. I look forward to seeing the work you will be engaged in within the Municipality! So readers watch for an upcoming post about Celebration, the inaugural show for the Community Art Gallery. I will include dates, and images - you wont' want to miss this sneak peek.

Louise requested that I include the below as a closing to this interview.

A personal note from Louise:
“When I came to Fort McMurray in 2009, I missed something in this area. I felt the need to bring local artists together, wanted to provide support and opportunities for artists to exhibit their work. Now this dream came through. It was just an idea, but you only need a handful of people who believe in it to make it happen. I would like to thank the current members of the Wood Buffalo Artists Forum, especially Christine Burton, and Tim Reid from MacDonald Island for believing in it!”


  1. It's amazing, during the installation of the exhibition people wander in the Gallery. Everybody is so excited! Turns out we met more artists that did not know about our existence, nor the existence of Municipality's Cultural Blog/Email list! Now they know!

  2. Wonderful! That’s great news Louise. I'm very excited to see all the work and get to meet with the artists. Thank you for sharing our existence with them, please know that we very much appreciate having you as one of our champions to the community.

  3. It is really very good for all Artist to meet together and express their feelings in their work of Art,as I have recently come here I feel I am very lucky,I will be able to see new work of creation in different mediums.Best wishes for good start.